You Never Know Who's Reading

If you're a music journalist, keep writing--the reach of your words might surprise you.

(Credit: maissoma)


In May of 2006 I graduated from Clark University in Worcester, MA. After living with my parents and working all summer, I moved to Astoria, Queens with one of my best friends on a one-month sublet and no guaranteed work.

I eventually figured out a long-term living situation, but my dreams of living in one of the world’s cultural epicenters didn’t pan out. For the next 10 months New York City proceeded to kick my ass on a daily basis, as nothing ever quite clicked in terms of career options and work. I was employed the whole time, but like many New Yorkers, I worked all the time just to afford my tiny living space. By early June of 2007 I returned to my hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts, thoroughly humbled and clueless about what to do next.

I didn’t have much to show for my time in Astoria, but it did provide me with some very important writing experiences. I read a bunch of different music blogs on Blogger and I eventually decided to start my own. I self-published some interviews, including a discussion with one of my all-time favorite mixtape creators DJ Neil Armstrong. After reading The Smoking Section religiously for several months, I passed along the Neil Armstrong interview and some other recent clippings to site editor/founder/writer John Gotty. This sparked a conversation and an opportunity to write my Smoking Section debut—another interview with Neil Armstrong about his conceptual Bittersweet mixtape.

I wrote on and off for The Smoking Section for the next two years or so. I try not to have too many regrets in life, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder how things might have worked out differently in my writing life if I’d handled my time there a bit differently. I wish I’d been more professional, shown more gratitude towards Gotty and others who helped me, worked harder to build relationships with and champion other Smoking Section writers, taken better advantage of Gotty’s insane music industry Rolodex, and written more articles/stories. But for whatever reason I just didn’t have the maturity and motivation to maximize the situation.

Despite not always pushing things to the fullest, writing for TSS gave me a boost of confidence and some much needed experience. The most memorable was a multi-day project in August of 2008 that covered De La Soul’s body of work from their 3 Feet High and Rising debut to their fourth album Stakes Is High. My contribution was a two-part long-form piece that included interviews with authors Ethan Brown and Brian Coleman, V103 DJ and Scratch Atlanta instructor DJ Jaycee, graphic designer and mixtape DJ Scott Williams, and Prince Paul. (Click here for to revisit Part 1 and here for Part 2) Jaycee even made an unbelievable, incredibly comprehensive De La Soul mixtape to help promote the article.

Gotty did what all great leaders do during this extended celebration of De La. He saw that I was really passionate about something and serious about pulling it off, so he empowered me despite my limited experience while also providing crucial editorial guidance so that I would find success in the end. It all ended up working out really well—both De La Soul articles were by far the best-received and most widely circulated piece I wrote for many years.

After sort of walking away from writing in 2009 to get my master’s degree in special education, I wrote on and off several times over the years but I couldn’t quite get back into the groove of regular writing. In early 2016 I decided to re-up some of my old Smoking Section pieces on Medium just to see if anyone would still care about them. I edited part of my 2008 conversation with Prince Paul where we discussed De La Soul’s first two records and turned the interview into a new article that focused on De La Soul is Dead, my favorite album of all time. Then this happened.

Having Questlove randomly tweet out something I had originally written eight years prior was one of those, “Oh shit, someone important who I admire liked something I wrote and shared it with the world without me begging them to,” moments. It was a major boost of energy when I needed some encouragement to give music journalism yet another go.

The four years since Questlove’s tweet have been a pretty epic rollercoaster of writing highs and lows. I started the Micro-Chop Medium publication, wrote articles for Ableton, HipHopDX, Okayplayer, Red Bull Music Academy, Reverb, UndergroundHipHop.com, and eventually launched the Micro-Chop Substack newsletter last summer in a moment of financial desperation. I also failed a million times at various things along the way and almost called it quits (again) more than once.

With the four-year anniversary of launching Micro-Chop not far away, De La Soul is Dead turned 29 on May 14th. As fate would have it, I once again find myself once again at a crossroads, weighing the amount of blood, sweat, and tears I put into my work work and asking myself if it’s all worth it. I think this summer, when I can focus more time and energy on writing than I have been able to in a while, will help provide some clarity.

As I pondered some of these questions about my future as a writer, this happened.

For those who don’t know, David Dennis Jr. is a big deal and one of many very esteemed alumni from The Smoking Section. He is an adjunct professor of English and journalism at Morehouse College. He writes for ESPN’s The Undefeated. He also has a debut book due out soon that HarperCollins is publishing. Titled The Movement Made Us, the book is a described as “father-son dialogue across generations” with his father Dave Dennis, Sr., “an original 1961 Freedom Rider, former director of CORE and Civil Rights hero.”

Needless to say, I was flattered by his words.

As much as I love music and writing about music, I often ask myself questions like, “Does this even matter” and “Who cares?” I’m not really sure what the answers to these questions are, but the fact that something I wrote 12 years ago about my favorite group and album still resonates with David Dennis Jr. is pretty special. All the thanks in the world go out to John Gotty for giving me such a memorable opportunity.

I can’t say where writing will take me in the ensuing years, but a conversation I had with my favorite producer in my mid-20s had an effect on two special people. At the moment, that’s enough for me.


Thanks for reading, see you on Monday!